Several months ago, my wife and I watched the movie Pelé: Birth of a Legend about the Brazilian soccer star and his rise to fame. When we lived in Russia and my sons were young, we watched a lot of soccer (or "football," as the rest of the world calls it). Watching the Brazilian team, I understood why their style of play came to be known as "the beautiful game." But according to the movie, there was a long, dry period when their game was not so beautiful.
I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the movie, and I am not suggesting that the actors or the persons they portrayed were saints. I think it's safe to assume that they were all very human and flawed, like the rest of us. However, as a story, the movie touched me deeply.
The movie portrays Brazil with a population oppressed by poverty and racial discrimination, and as a nation, humiliated on the world stage. Pelé's father, a good footballer in his own right whose career was cut short due to injury, is reduced to cleaning toilets to earn enough to feed his family. There is a style of play indigenous to Brazil, but the coaches forbid it, forcing the players instead to try to act and play like Europeans. Compelled to play by a standard foreign to them, Brazilian footballers feel stymied and frustrated.
When Brazil loses the World Cup in 1950, Pele – about 8 years old at the time – sees his father weeping over their humiliation, and with deep empathy and earnestness, Pele tells his father, "Pai, I will win the World Cup for Brazil." His father looks at his beloved, first-born son through his tears, managing a faint smile. But sure enough, about 8 years later, Pele is playing in the World Cup, the youngest player ever to do so. By a series of events, Pele "realizes his destiny," throws off the shackles of conformity forced upon the team, and plays Brazilian-style football from his heart. Brazil at last wins the World Cup!
When the news of the win comes over the radio, while young people are jumping and cheering, Pele's parents and friends stare silently, with pools of tears in their eyes, unable to speak. When I saw that scene, it touched me to the core of my being, and I did not know why. I even prayed, "Lord, that feeling is so deep, I cannot describe it. I feel it, but I cannot name it. What is it??"
A few days later I suddenly saw something that helped me to understand what that "feeling" was and why it resonates so deeply within the human heart.
(To be continued).